Home > The Merk Perspective > Merk Insights > Nov 14th 2006

A Lower Trade Deficit Unlikely to Save the Dollar

Axel Merk, Nov 14th 2006

America’s massive trade deficit exerts pressure on the US dollar as currency is shoveled abroad in return for goods and services. As the economy is slowing down and possibly sliding into recession, the rate at which the trade deficit grows may be slowing down; in September, this deficit was “only” $64.3 billion – still near record territory, but not as bad as economists had predicted.

Does this mean the worst for the dollar is over? After all, it now costs over 50% more to pay for a €100 euro hotel room than six years ago, assuming the hotel has not raised its price. Can it get worse? Since you probably cannot afford to go to Europe on vacation anymore, it may not matter to you. But even if you do not travel abroad, it does matter to you as your purchasing power erodes; amongst others, the cost of imports and commodities, including the price you pay at the gas pump, is likely to go up.


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The trade deficit is a component of the broader current account deficit, which also includes investment income. The current account deficit is the shortfall that needs to be covered by foreign investors for the dollar not to fall. Last year, foreigners needed to purchase $805 billion in US dollar denominated assets, just to keep the dollar from falling, that’s more than $2 billion every single day.

As the US economy is slowing down, what matters is whether other factors propping up the dollar slow down even faster. The most apparent one is whether foreigners will be as inclined to invest in a slowing economy. Another is trade policy: a new Congress may take a tougher look at ‘protecting’ local jobs. If such policy is not engineered very carefully, the risk is high that it will hurt all those who have been able to adjust by taking on jobs working in an industry dependent on imports; the trade deficit makes the dollar vulnerable should our trading partners not agree with new rules or restrictions on trade.

Note, too, that we are talking about slowing growth in the deficit, not about reversing the trend, nor about eliminating an enormous cumulative deficit that has been built over time. We only need to have a negative change at the margin of any parameter that supports the dollar, for the dollar to weaken further.

The main reason the dollar has not fallen faster and more sharply is that it is in no one’s interest for the dollar to fall. The most prominent recent example of the pain a weak dollar can cause is with Airbus, the European aircraft maker. It is an “old-economy” company with bureaucratic structures seemingly incapable of adjusting to a more rapidly changing world. Mistakes in today’s world are expensive, and Airbus has had a number of major missteps. In addition to their internal problems, the weak dollar makes their operation operate at a significant loss. While many rightfully say Airbus is too ‘important’ to fail, it has the hallmarks of being yet another disastrous European project along the lines of the overly expensive Eurotunnel project that has created losses for multiple generations of investors (Eurotunnel is the railway under the North Sea connecting the UK with mainland Europe).

At least in Europe, the central bank (ECB) employs a strong dollar as one of its tools to exert pressure on European governments to induce reform. The pain of too strong a euro is shrugged off by ECB president Trichet who says that a 1 percentage drop in US growth only impacts European growth by 0.2%. However, in Asia, economies are hopelessly dependent on exports to the US and, in our assessment, will do anything in their power to keep their own inflated economies afloat. In plaintext, this means that Asian countries are likely to engage in competitive devaluation, leaving the euro as the de facto winner as pressures on the dollar mount. Gold and resource rich countries are also likely to continue to benefit from this environment. In our assessment, dollar cash is a risky, not a safe asset; investors may want to consider diversifying their portfolios to be prepared for a potential further deterioration of the dollar.

The next time you hear about the trade or current account deficit growing at a less brisk pace, evaluate why this deficit has gone down. Is it because of a shift in policies to induce consumers to save and invest? Or is it because the economy is slowing down? As consumers cannot afford to spend as much as in the past, their savings rate is bound to go up as well; but there is a difference between savings going up because consumers cannot afford to spend anymore, and an environment that fosters savings and investments. Given that most politicians are interested in short-term growth no matter what party they belong to, it remains to be seen whether the new Congress will pave the way for a change. Remember that we do not have an “ownership” society when all we own is debt.

We manage the Merk Hard Currency Fund, a fund that seeks to profit from a potential decline in the dollar. To learn more about the Fund, or to subscribe to our free newsletter, please visit www.merkfunds.com.

Axel Merk
Manager of the Merk Hard Currency Fund, http://www.merkfunds.com/

The Merk Hard Currency Fund is a no-load mutual fund that invests in a basket of hard currencies from countries with strong monetary policies assembled to protect against the depreciation of the U.S. dollar relative to other currencies. The Fund may serve as a valuable diversification component as it seeks to protect against a decline in the dollar while potentially mitigating stock market, credit and interest risks—with the ease of investing in a mutual fund.

The Fund may be appropriate for you if you are pursuing a long-term goal with a hard currency component to your portfolio; are willing to tolerate the risks associated with investments in foreign currencies; or are looking for a way to potentially mitigate downside risk in or profit from a secular bear market. For more information on the Fund and to download a prospectus, please visit www.merkfunds.com.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the Merk Hard Currency Fund carefully before investing. This and other information is in the prospectus, a copy of which may be obtained by visiting the Fund's website at www.merkfunds.com or calling 866-MERK FUND. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

The Fund primarily invests in foreign currencies and as such, changes in currency exchange rates will affect the value of what the Fund owns and the price of the Fund’s shares. Investing in foreign instruments bears a greater risk than investing in domestic instruments for reasons such as volatility of currency exchange rates and, in some cases, limited geographic focus, political and economic instability, and relatively illiquid markets. The Fund is subject to interest rate risk which is the risk that debt securities in the Fund’s portfolio will decline in value because of increases in market interest rates. As a non-diversified fund, the Fund will be subject to more investment risk and potential for volatility than a diversified fund because its portfolio may, at times, focus on a limited number of issuers. The Fund may also invest in derivative securities which can be volatile and involve various types and degrees of risk. For a more complete discussion of these and other Fund risks please refer to the Fund’s prospectus.

The views in this article were those of Axel Merk as of the newsletter's publication date and may not reflect his views at any time thereafter. These views and opinions should not be construed as investment advice nor considered as an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy shares of any securities mentioned herein. Mr. Merk is the founder and president of Merk Investments LLC and is the portfolio manager for the Merk Hard Currency Fund. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, distributor.

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